The WPE Program and Uncle Tom Kneitel

I got started in electronics back in the 1960s by listening to shortwave radio. I was not the most serious of DXers, but I enjoyed listening to broadcasts from all over the world. I collected quite a few QSLs, too.

I kept up with the DX world by reading both Electronics Illustrated and Popular Electronics. My dad subscribed to both magazines because at the time he was building hi-fi kits. Both magazines covered hi-fi equipment as well as shortwave radio and amateur radio topics.

One of the ways in which Popular Electronics got readers involved is via the Shortwave Monitor Registration Program. For a very small fee (10 cents!), you could apply for registration. For that dime, you got a certificate with a “WPE” callsign and were eligible for awards, similar to the DXCC program that the ARRL now sponsors.

I forget how I came across the We’re You a WPE? webpage, but on this page, there’s a bunch of interesting information about the program and links to other pages about it. It was like going back in time.

On this page, is a couple paragraphs from Tom Kneitel, K2AES, who was working for Popular Electronics at the time. I didn’t know that Kneitel worked for PE; I knew him as the editor of Electronics Illustrated. For EI, he used to write a monthly column called “Uncle Tom’s Corner.”

This column was a question and answer column. Readers would write in with questions about electronics and shortwave listening and Kneitel would reply, sometimes seriously and sometimes sarcastically. For example, in the January 1969 issue, a reader accused Kneitel of being a CIA agent. He replied, “Buddy, if I were a CIA agent…my next assignment would be troubleshooting defective U2s over Peking.”

A drawing of Kneitel appeared at the top of the column. It was pretty funny, too. It showed him with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. I recently e-mailed him, and mentioned that picture. He replied:

I had a lot of fun writing EI’s Uncle Tom’s Corner. Interesting thing about the drawing at the top of the column. The artist (George Janes) drew me from a photo he had taken. When he took it to EI’s editor for approval, it was rejected. The editor wanted me to look macho. He had the artist add that cigarette to the drawing. Was pretty funny since I don’t smoke. The same artist later visited me to shoot some more photos for another EI story– but that time he took the photos with a cigarette.

I still have some of those old PE and EI magazines. A couple of them have construction projects using tubes, and one of these days I’m going to actually build one or two of them.

For more information on Popular Electronics in the good, old days, click here. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a similar page for Electronics Illustrated.

Comments

  1. Matt Clark says:

    I ran across one of these mags in which Tom Kneitel was publishing Ouija board messages from a “William Wheton”. In a later issue a reader wrote in and asked what further info Tom had gotten. Tom said he might write a followup, that there was “some real evidence” to this.

    I found an email address for him but it didn’t work. If you talk to him again could you please ask him what happened? All us readers were just left in suspense!

    Thanks very much for your time!

    Matt Clark
    ibgrimme@yahoo.com

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